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Dostoyevsky’s visions (or) Raiders of the TLE

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The Surrealist Research Bureau examines Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

A few years back I had a series of bizarre seizures, suddenly losing consciousness and falling to the ground briefly, usually coming to within a few seconds. There was no thrashing wildly or swallowing my tongue as is common in epileptics, but in those brief moments I experienced a strange clarity and focus I’d never felt before. Coming to, I was always astounded to find only a second or two had passed. I’d been in a timeless void, egoless and drifting, opening my eyes as a newborn, amazed at the mysterious, wondrous world unfolding before me. Then my old self gradually re-settled into my skin. That so little time had passed was stunning, as the experience itself had been so timeless, so ineffable and otherworldly.

I recalled reading, in my college days, statements by the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, that during his own epileptic seizures he had experienced “profound and marvelous mysteries and secrets.” I learned later that only a very small minority of sufferers of epilepsy, perhaps less than 5 percent, feel these mystical strange “auras” as they’re called, and few of these can fully or even partially describe their visions. Even a world-class writer like Dostoyevsky was reduced to phrases like: “I would give up ten years of my life, or even life itself, to know once more even a few precious seconds of that limitless joy unbounded.” 

It’s interesting as well to note that, in those days when neurological diseases like epilepsy were great unknowns still in their infancy, Freud himself felt that Dostoyevsky’s (and others’) symptoms were merely hysteria, a catch-all diagnosis he seemed to bestow upon patients with a suspicious regularity.

Now, about five years previous to my own series of seizures, I’d had a minor stroke which occurred, it turns out, near a tiny portion of the brain called the temporal lobe. Other than headaches, which dissipated slowly over the years, I’d had no other symptoms, but the stroke—or brainstorm, which is the more common term nowadays—left a miniscule infarct, or dark spot, on my cat scans, which persists to this day, right near the temporal lobe.

This is important, to me at least, as a partial explanation for what had occurred. Recent scientific research suggests that artificial stimulation of the temporal lobe (generally through a helmet which directs magnetic waves to those specific parts of the brain) induces in subjects the same vivid “auras” epileptics and others recall after their episodes. Saint Paul (of Christianity fame) is only one of many religious and other historical figures who’s believed to have had temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE).

In Acts 22:6-21, for instance, he describes, after seeing a blinding light, a particularly severe case in which he was unable to eat or drink for three full days, and in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul gave further clues, confirmation that he’d had frequent, recurring episodes, and further, that he was aware of an illness or disease in himself.

Dostoyevsky, in The Idiot, has his epileptic hero, Prince Myshkin, state of his fits, “What does it matter if it’s only a disease or a tiny spasm in the brain when it seems to fill me with harmony and beauty unbounded, when ecstasy, devotion, and bliss are all I can recall?”

Of course, my own brief, relatively mild glimpses of a vast, timeless void can hardly compare with St. Paul or Dostoyevsky; they can, however, be likened to The Byrds; classic song: 5D. 

“Oh how is it that I could come out to here/ And still be floating/ And never hit bottom and keep falling through/ Just relaxed and payin’ attention./ Oh my 3 dimensional boundaries were lost/ I had lost to them gladly/ I saw that world crumble and thought I was dead/ But I found my senses still working/ To show me that Joy innocently is;/ Just be Quiet and feel it around you.”

‘til next time, keep spreading the word; “Soylent Green is People!”

All Homage to Xena!

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

epilepsy, Dostoyevsky, strokes, visions, temporal lobe epilepsy, From the Files of the RJ Surrealist Research Burea

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